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Estonia: Deaths caused by drug overdoses have skyrocketed in 2022

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10.02.2023 - In 2022, the number of drug overdose deaths has skyrocketed compared to previous years. If there were 31 such deaths in 2020 and 39 in 2021, then in 2022, based on the toxicological analyzes performed so far, there have been a total of 79 deaths. This number may increase in the near future, because the Estonian Forensic Institute has not yet performed all the analyzes for 2022.

Of the currently known 79 drug overdose deaths, 38% are related to synthetic opioids, specifically the nitazene group of substances. Most of them, or 22, are related to the use of protonitazen, in seven cases to metonitazen and six to isotonitazen. Some overdose deaths involved several different combinations of nitazene. There has also been a noticeable increase in carfentanil deaths (7 in total), which decreased in the previous couple of years. According to data so far, 15% of deaths in 2022 were related to cocaine use and 29% to amphetamine use. Most overdose deaths are caused by a combination of multiple narcotic and psychotropic substances. In addition to so-called street drugs, post-mortem toxicology has found antidepressants and benzodiazepines and other drugs.

The average age of people who lost their lives due to an overdose is 38 (17−68), 62 of those who died were male and 17 were female. If we look at the deaths related to substances belonging to the nitasene group separately, the average age is 41 (32−51), 28 for men and 2 for women. There have been a total of eight overdose deaths in the 17−20 age group as of the beginning of December, which is very worrying. Methylphenidate was found in four people belonging to this age group. Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant with a similar but milder effect to cocaine. The substance is also legally used as medicine.

"In the current situation, where both extremely powerful synthetic opioids with dangerous additives and strong cocaine are spreading in Estonia, it is extremely important that people who use drugs are aware of the dangers and in contact with help services. They should have an adequate supply of the take-home opioid antidote naloxone. Last year, naloxone was used in the community in 454 cases, which is almost three times more than the year before. This reflects the seriousness of the situation. The contacts of the naloxone dispensing centers can be found on the website," commented Aljona Kurbatova, head of the Center for Prevention of Drug Addiction and Infectious Diseases at TAI.

Source: TAI

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